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Czech mayor: Repression alone doesn't work, but community service will help

Hrádek nad Nisou / Prague, 20.9.2012 21:37, (ROMEA)

This article continues our series of question and answer sessions with leading candidates from various political parties and groups running in the upcoming elections for Regional Authorities in the Czech Republic. We asked the candidates for their opinions on the integration of the Romani minority and how they would achieve improvements in this area. We were primarily interested in whether they would be calling upon Romani personalities to collaborate with them, as well as in their positions on education, housing and unemployment levels among people living in socially excluded localities, Romani people included. We also asked whether they intend to achieve calmer co-existence between majority-society and minority people.

Our series continues with the Liberec Region. We sent our questions to these politicians:

Eva Bartoňová - ODS (Civic Democrats)

Lenka Kadlecová - ČSSD (Czech Social Democrats)

Jiří Kočandrle - TOP 09 + Starostové (TOP 09 and Mayors)

Jan Korytář - Změna pro Liberecký kraj (Change for Liberec Region)

Stanislav Mackovík - KSČM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia)

Martin Půta - Starostové pro Liberecký kraj (Mayors for Liberec Region)

Only two candidates responded to our questions, Eva Bartoňová and Jan Korytář. Attorney Martin Půta, who is currently the Mayor of Hrádek nad Nisou, sent his answers after the deadline passed - they are given below:

1. The integration of Romani people in the Czech Republic has so far mostly been conceived of as a one-way affair. Very few decision-makers ask Romani people for their opinions. On the other hand, Romani people themselves often are unfamiliar with the opinions of the majority society and with proposals for political solutions to this issue because no one ever consults them. Would you try to change this through supporting the participation of local Romani representatives?

If yes - what would this inclusion look like in practice?

a) Would you seek to have Romani people listened to during joint meetings?

During my 10 years of work on the town council I have always done my best to communicate with Romani representatives whenever necessary. I have helped arrange spaces for their activities, such as athletic and cultural groups. I am prepared to proceed in that same way should I be elected to represent the Liberec Region. I consider Romani people to be a part of society with whom it is good to communicate.

b) Would you ever have an outstanding Romani personality as an adviser?

If the Romani people living in the Liberec Region agree on a representative, I am prepared to meet with him regularly to address the problems Romani people have in the region.

c) Would you involve more Romani personalities in the design and implementation of integration measures?

I am convinced that, primarily in socially excluded localities, the only solutions that do work are those supported by residents and directly involving them.

If NO – what would your integration approach look like?

a) Would you proceed through repressive proposals, such as conditioning the disbursal of welfare on the fulfillment of certain conditions, or banning residency on municipal territory for those who repeatedly commit misdemeanors? What concrete measures would you advocate?

Repression in and of itself doesn't work. Banning residency on municipal territory would be an institution with which I personally disagree.

b) Would you proceed through motivational measures, such as paying long-term unemployed persons to work for NGOs, towns and villages? What concrete measures would you advocate?

It is appropriate to motivate those who are interested through such work and then to point them in the direction of the jobs ordinarily available in the region. We are having a good experience here with the community service work system, it's just that significantly more financing for establishing such jobs is needed from the Labor Office. As the mayor of a town, I see precisely that option as a good solution, both for those who have long been unemployed and for keeping a community clean and tidy.

c) Would you combine these approaches? How, specifically?

The rules must apply to everyone irrespective of their nationality. If people don't take advantage of such offers from a municipality, or if they don't abide by municipal rules on coexistence, then they should not be surprised when the municipality does not go above and beyond what it is required to do by law to help them.

2. How would you proceed in addressing the long-term unemployment of people living in socially excluded localities and other poor people, including Romani people living in those localities?

a) Though an effort to create jobs? What would such an effort look like in practice?

There should be greater state support to create jobs for community service work where people can earn the minimum wage at least. I consider one job created that way as more beneficial than teaching 10 unemployed people to use a computer. Unfortunately, the European funds and public monies are still being used for those kinds of trainings.

b) By reducing the unemployment and social welfare benefits these people receive so they start seeking work?

If someone constantly rejects job offers and does not want to perform community service to benefit the people who contribute to the welfare system through their taxes, then I would consider depriving that person of their welfare as an extreme but necessary solution.

3. How would you approach resolving the housing of the very poorest people, including Romani people, living in socially excluded localities?

a) Advocating for social housing, to be financed from the regional budget?

The change in the system for supporting housing is forcing tenants to pay disproportionate rents to the residential hotels, and these people are often falling into situations which they cannot escape without aid. It is the role of towns and villages to provide social housing, and the money saved on these ridiculously high rents in the residential hotels should instead end up in municipal budgets and be used to facilitate the provision of social housing under clearly established conditions. There is also a need to make it possible for the long-term unemployed to pay off their rents by working for their town or village.

b) By reducing the state housing benefit so these people start looking for their own housing?

c) Some other way? How, specifically?

Romani people must get the same opportunity to acquire a municipally-owned apartment as any other applicant, but at the same time they must know that, just like any other applicant, they must adere to the lease they sign by paying their rent and following the rules of coexistence. Violation of these principles must mean, in the same way for everyone, the termination of the lease. There is also the need to proceed sensitively when assigning apartments, on the basis of previous experiences with various applicants. Most of the ghettos and localities now housing so-called inadaptable residents were created by town councils themselves through their own policies.

4. Would you like to increase educational achievement among the poorest people, including Romani people living in socially excluded localities?

a) If yes - how would you like to contribute to that increase specifically?

Education should be more transparent. Money from various European funds should be focused precisely on children and youth, and to a certain extent it would be appropriate for that money to make up for dysfunctional families, by which I mean financing tutoring for these children and assistance for them in selecting career paths and recreational activities. Teaching children gives us an enormous opportunity, to show them, through science, that they can live differently than the way they see many families living - maybe even differently than their own parents. The automatic recommendation that Romani children attend the "practical primary" or "special" schools is a bad model for their inclusion into society. Luckily, I have had good experiences in this area in Hrádek nad Nisou. My daughters attend first and second grade together with their Romani schoolmates and I consider it a plus for them that they are learning to communicate with children who are a little different from them and who have a different culture.

5. How would you like to achieve a better, calmer coexistence between majority-society people and minorities, primarily the Romani minority?

a) Would you like majority and minority people to start communicating with one another more often? If yes - how specifically would you like to achieve this?

It is necessary to create an environment where Romani people get the same opportunity as everyone else to demonstrate what they know how to do - for example, through children's hobby groups giving performances at municipal celebrations. I consider it reasonable for a municipality to aid in creating the conditions for such activities to function and for the municipality to always emphasize that Romani people are important, respected partners for the town, just like all other groups are.

This kind of mutual positioning and trust can be created over a longer period of time and requires intensive work by both sides. The various steps taken become more generally applicable only with great difficulty. I have had an advantage in these matters because as a production manager in my previous job, I communicated with many Romani people who worked at the firm and my experiences with them were rather good.

b) Through increased outreach and social work activities among poor people, primarily Romani ones? What would that look like in practice?

What is important is financial literacy, counseling for situations in which people don't know how to help themselves, and primarily, activities targeting children and youth.

c) By forcing these people to obey the rules "through force"? How, specifically?

Repression must always be the very last resort. However, it must be clear to everyone from the start that the rules apply to everyone and cannot be avoided or not adhered to.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, František Kostlán, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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